Storm brewing over Zuma's new VIP jets

Johannesburg - A storm is brewing over the acquisition of new VIP jets for President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet at a cost of R2 billion, just after Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene announced revised spending plans to reduce waste.

Netwerk24 reported that the three new VIP jets - a Boeing Business Jet and two new Falcon 900 Business Jets - were being acquired for "international commitments" as the president's international obligations have increased dramatically.

However, the money to be spent on the new jets was originally earmarked to buy crucial freight carriers needed for South African troops abroad.

Hiring planes

Air force spokesperson Brigadier General Marthie Visser told Rapport newspaper that in the last few years planes for VIPs had to be hired when one of the current jets had been out of service.

The same applied to flying troops abroad and back. These flights could cost the air force even more than the hired flights for VIPs.

The new jets were expected to be acquired before the end of the year.

The Boeing Business Jet was expected to cost R600 million second-hand, which was reportedly seen as a bargain.

Linden Birns, an aviation expert, said the cost could be double if it was a new plane.

'Gravy plane deal'

The Democratic Alliance expressed shock at the report that R2 billion could be spent on what it says is a "new gravy plane deal" for Zuma.

"Last year the secretary of defence, Dr Sam Gulube, told members of the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans 'there is no plan for the department of defence to acquire VVIP aircraft'," DA MP David Maynier said on Sunday.

"This is very similar to former Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu’s failed attempt to circumvent defence acquisition policy and acquire a Boeing 777-200 LR and Global Express 6000 Business Jet, at the cost of 263 million US dollars (R3.1 billion) in 2012."

Maynier claimed that there was nothing wrong with Zuma's current jet, Inkwazi, saying it was in "mint condition" and had recently undergone maintenance at a considerable cost to taxpayers.

Not enough aircrew

Netwerk24 reported that there were also not enough pilots and crew to fly the new jets.

Maynier said of the 830 posts for aircrew, 348 were vacant.

"I will, therefore, write to Stanley Motimele and Emmanuel Mlambo, the co-chairpersons of the joint standing committee on defence, to request an urgent briefing on the acquisition of new VIP aircraft for President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet.

"In the end, President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet should make do with the existing Boeing Business Jet and Falcon 900 Business Jet operated by the South African Air Force," he said.

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